Friday, June 6, 1997

He Did It! Kevin Cwayna Brings IML Sash Home To Minnesota

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #53, June 6, 1997)

PHOTO: Kevin Cwayna, International Mr. Leather ’97
PHOTO CREDIT): Photo by Ken Binder

On Sunday, May 25, at the Congress Theater in Chicago, Mr. Minnesota Leather Kevin Cwayna became Minnesota’s first-ever international leather titleholder as he was named International Mr. Leather 1997. For those who, like me, doubted it would ever happen here — it just did. The adventure begins.

This year’s contest was the nineteenth and the biggest in the event’s history — more attendees (an estimated 5,000), more hotel rooms (in a record seven hotels), more vendors at the Leather Market. This year’s Internet simulcast added video streaming; web-surfers and news reporters from 26 countries connected and were able to converse live with judges, celebrities, and IML personnel. The British Broadcasting Corporation even sent a camera crew to cover the event for their “Gaytime” series. (Just for good measure, they also talked to two other groups that were spending the weekend in Chicago: the Bears and the conservative-Christian men’s group known as the Promise Keepers.)

The weekend’s events started Friday night with the introduction of judges, dignitaries, and 53 contestants from four countries and 24 states. It was your humble columnist’s perception that, when he was introduced, Cwayna received perhaps the best audience reaction of the evening — in much the same way that Joe Gallagher, International Mr. Leather 1996, seemed to be the audience favorite last year. I chalked it up to wishful thinking on my part. Everybody knows that the winners of these contests are usually from the East or West Coasts, and have the support of large sponsoring organizations who maneuver behind the scenes to make sure their guy wins. We have no such “grooming” organization in Minnesota, so we haven’t got a chance, right?

Wrong. Contestants are first judged on the basis of a private interview with the judges, and Cwayna evidently had a strong interview — strong enough that he was one of twenty finalists selected from the field of 53 contestants to advance to the next level of competition: speech, leather image, and the ever-popular “jock walk.”

At the contest on Sunday night the crowd roared its approval as Cwayna appeared in the “jock walk” portion of the contest. His speech connected with the audience better than any other contestant’s. Unfortunately, audience applause made his speech run over the 90-second time limit; the microphone was turned off and he didn’t get a chance to finish.

While the judges’ scores were being tabulated, comic Scott Thompson (as “Kids in the Hall” character Buddy Cole) entertained the crowd with musings on Gay Pride, relationships and AIDS testing. The best line of the evening was this bittersweet comeback directed at people (like the Promise Keepers, perhaps?) who would prefer to see gay people eradicated: “Let ’em try. After 15 years of AIDS, we’re tougher than cockroaches!”

(On the subject of entertainment: Earlier in the evening, Minnesota’s own Savage Aural Hotbed stunned the audience with their trademark brand of sparks-flying, drum-thumping, bass-booming music. When they finished, the audience sat a moment in incredulous silence before breaking into wild applause.)

It was time to announce the winners. Third place: Paul Zinser, sponsored by The L.U.R.E. Bar of New York City. Second place: an overjoyed Mr. Pistons Leather Mark Malan of Long Beach, California (who found out he would be competing three days before the contest!)

Then Cwayna was announced as the new International Mr. Leather, and the stage was engulfed in pandemonium. All three winners were besieged by a swarm of reporters, photographers and well-wishers. Cwayna’s beaming smile could probably be seen by ships on Lake Michigan. A BBC reporter respectfully shoved a microphone in his face and asked for his reaction, which was simply: “I’m truly surprised.”

You may get to see that historic moment, and lots of others, if and when PBS picks up the “Gaytime” series from the BBC. If you don’t want to wait that long, check out the contest’s web site: It may or may not have video clips available, but it certainly will feature some hot photos.

Sashless in Chicago

When the time came for IML ’96 Joe Gallagher to “pass the sash” to the new IML, there was one problem: nobody backstage knew where the sash was. Gallagher put the IML medal around Cwayna’s neck instead, and the festivities continued. (The sash has since been found.)

The lost sash was only one of many nasty little problems that seemed to plague the weekend. Gallagher’s last hurrah, Saturday night’s “Hometown Party,” was scheduled for 9:00 pm at a bar called “Fusion” (the former “Vortex”). At 11:00 pm, Gallagher himself finally announced that the microphones weren’t working properly and the event would therefore happen back in the lobby of the Congress Hotel. It was after midnight before the crowd had reassembled at the hotel and the roast got underway.

Other problems ranged from inadequate shuttle-bus service to 12-step recovery meetings that didn’t happen as scheduled. Don’t get me wrong: It was still a spectacular weekend and an impressive achievement for the organizers and volunteers who made it happen. The problems were more irritating than catastrophic. Some of them even struck me as humorous — but then, I wasn’t one of the people backstage frantically trying to find that sash.

The point is this: the weekend hasn’t had these kinds of problems before, or at least not as many. IML has generally run pretty smoothly. Some attendees were heard wondering if the contest has grown too big to be manageable. Let’s hope that’s not the case, and that next year’s 20th-anniversary contest is even bigger and has even fewer problems.

What Does It All Mean?

For Kevin Cwayna, it means a busy year ahead, and it means more frequent flier miles than he’ll know what to do with. Beyond that, it’s his choice. Cwayna has just been handed an international title; he must now figure out what he wants to do with it.

The same can be said for Minnesota’s leather community. In a sense, we’ve been handed a great opportunity for increased exposure and visibility. For the next year, the rest of the leather world will be focusing a certain amount of attention on Cwayna, and by extension on the rest of us here in Minnesota. We, as a community, need to figure out how we want to use this year, what we want to accomplish and how to make it happen.

What does it mean for the rest of us? Whatever we want it to mean. Think about that and, in the words of Mr. Cwayna, “Get proactive about what you want.”

Upcoming Leather Events

The Atons present “Daddy’s Day”
Sunday, June 15, 6-10 pm, The Saloon

Bring your daddy, bring your boy, bring your bear or cub! $6 cover includes free keg beer & sodas. Live appearance by porn star Logan Reed. Picnic lunch on the patio. And — for one time only, at this event — sign up for the Atons’ 25th-anniversary run and receive a $10 discount. For further information call the Atons.

Mark Your Calendar . . .

Sunday, June 29: Leather Pride celebration at the Gay 90’s. Complete details next issue. BE THERE!

July 18-19: Mr. Minnesota Drummer and Drummerboy Contest at the Club Metro Underground. If you want to compete, call Colin Spriestersbach.

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